Alongside their big desktop update for later in the year, AMD is also using this year’s Computex to announce an update to the low-end segment of their mobile lineup. In the fourth quarter of this year the company will be rolling out a new chip codenamed “Mendocino”, which is aimed at mainstream, high-volume Windows and ChromeOS notebooks. With 4 Zen 2 cores and RDNA 2 graphics, the relatively petite chip is intended to go into notebooks in the $399 to $699 range.
Based on its intended market segment, AMD Mendocino (no relation to Intel’s) is positioned to end up as the successor to a mix of lower-end AMD SoC products, including the bottom of the Ryzen mobile stack (e.g. Ryzen 5300U) as well as AMD’s Ryzen C-class chips. Mainstream laptops are a huge part of the market in volume, and for both good reasons and bad, it’s always been an area where AMD has done well for itself. And while the current chip shortage hasn’t been fully resolved, AMD is finally in a position to update the lower-end of its APU lineup with some newer hardware built on a more recent manufacturing process, replacing their current hodgepodge of mostly Picasso (4C 12nm Zen+) based SKUs.
As revealed by AMD this evening, Mendocino is a small, efficient SoC designed for what the company deems mainstream notebooks. The basic specifications are an interesting mix of hardware – on the CPU side it’s 4 Zen 2 CPU cores (and not Zen 3), and on the GPU side the chip will come with an integrated RDNA2 architecture GPU..
Seeing AMD planning to mint a new Zen 2-based APU in late 2022 is at first blush an unusual announcement, especially since the company is already two generations into mobile Zen 3. But for the low-end market it makes a fair bit of sense. Architecturally, Zen 3’s CPU complexes (CCXes) are optimized for 8C designs; when AMD needs fewer cores than that (e.g. Ryzen 3 5400U), they’ve been using salvaged 8C dies. For Zen 2, on the other hand, the native CCX size is 4, which allows AMD to quickly (and cheaply) design an SoC based on existing IP blocks, as opposed to engineering a proper 4C Zen 3 CCX.
Meanwhile, the RDNA2 GPU is still the cutting edge for AMD. Unlike the CPU core count, AMD is not disclosing the expected number of GPU cores/CUs here, but given the target market, it won’t be a very high number – so we don’t expect Mendocino’s implementation to be particularly speedy. Still, it offers AMD’s designers the company’s latest and most efficient graphics IP, and it also gives them an opportunity to bake in support for the latest video codecs. Something that’s more important than it may first appear, as AMD needs to ensure the new APU is capable of fully accelerating video encode and decode for video conferencing software. Ryzen 6000 Mobile supports everything up to AV1 decoding, so it’s a reasonable bet that Mendocino will be the same.
Feeding Mendocino will be LPDDR5 memory. At this point AMD isn’t stating whether it will be a dual channel (64-bit) or quad channel (128-bit) memory bus, and while the latter is much more likely, given the target market segment, it shouldn’t be taken as a given.
On the whole, the new chip looks a lot like AMD’s Aerith APU (codename: Van Gogh), a semi-custom chip that’s being used in Valve’s Steam Deck handheld console. But while Aerith was made on TSMC’s 7nm process, Mendocino is being built on TSMC 6nm, the same process as the Ryzen Mobile 6000 family. So despite the high-level architectural similarities, Mendocino is at a minimum a die shrink/port of Aerith.
The big push for Mendocino on AMD’s side, besides refreshing the lower-end of their lineup, is on improving the battery life of lower-end laptops. AMD is projecting that Mendocino laptops will be able to hit 10+ hours of battery lifetimes in “mixed usage” scenarios, which would be a notable improvement over some of the lower-end laptops on the market today. Especially compared to the Picasso-based SKUs this chip would be replacing, Mendocino gets the benefit of vastly newer power management technologies that AMD first developed for the Ryzen 6000 Mobile family. The jump to TSMC 6nm should help as well, though by how much ultimately depends on where AMD opts to clock the CPU and GPU cores.
Wrapping things up, according to AMD Mendocino will be launching in Q4 of this year. If it lands early enough in the quarter, AMD and its partners should be able to get Mendocino-based laptops on the market just in time for the holiday shopping period. Lenovo is already slated to use the chip in an upcoming Ideapad 1 laptop, and undoubtedly the rest of AMD’s usual partners will have their own laptops lined up as well.